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The Culture Ouroboros

By Shamus
on Thursday Jul 31, 2014
Filed under:
Video Games


This is a treat. Both SuperBunnyHop and Errant Signal review the same game at about the same time. Er. Not “review”. I mean, “talk about”. See…

I’ve said before that we need a better word for what we’re doing here. We use the word “review” to describe bare-bones, short-and-to-the-point consumer advice: Graphics are great. Story is okay. Four out of five stars. Those are aimed at people who haven’t experienced the work yet and are considering whether they should make a purchase or not.

This is fundamentally different from the kind of “review” we get from Errant Signal, BunnyHop, MrBtongue and (on extremely rare occasions) myself, which is a look at a game with the expectation that the audience has played it and wants to discuss it further. These post-consumption reviews are more like the conversation you’d have with a friend on the way home from the movie.

Consuming the media is just the first step of the process, after which we discuss, analyze, and reflect on what we’ve experienced. We look at it through the eyes of our friends and see if we find anything new. And even once that process is over, we’re still not done. After the reflection comes the remixing, when we take our shared experience and make something new from it. Maybe it’s a song, or a skit, derivative fan works, or derivative derivative fan works, or even some sort of cross-media hybrid. And if none of that works for you, you can always just watch other people as they consume media for you. The internet has focused and amplified all of these activities, turning them into a secondary wave of entertainment.

You could argue that we’ve also added quite a bit to the pre-consumption stages as well. Following the news. Watching and discussing and analyzing trailers. Commenting on “leaked” assets and talking about our expectations before the movie or game is released. Reading classic consumer-advice reviews.

SHEDDER? Really? That’s a terrible acronym.

We don’t even have proper words for a lot of these concepts. Some of them have names: Fan Fiction, let’s plays, teasers. But some of the other things don’t have proper names yet, and for me the most frustrating one is the fact that we use the word review for both “consumer advice” and “retrospective”. That is really annoying.

Comments (68)

  1. Pat says:

    I’m pretty sure the word you’re searching for here is one you used a few times in the post itself: Analyze. The type of in-depth discussion that Chris does with Errant Signal (I can’t speak for SuperBunnyHop as I’ve never seen it) is generally referred to as an analysis in the circles I run in. (Film studies circles, if you were wondering.)

  2. Yerushalmi says:

    So why not just call it “Retrospective”?

  3. MichaelGC says:

    There’s a guy on YouTube called Archengeia who had this problem, and he settled on “Ruminations.”

    Actually, some of you nice geeky folks might want to check him out: he’s very story & character-focused, and when he ‘ruminates’ he goes very in-depth. When I say ‘in-depth’ I mean things like 2-hr discussions of Mass Effect 3, or 3-hr vids on Final Fantasy VI! (Yep, that’s not a typo! – three hours of him just talking into the camera. Certainly won’t be for everyone!… But I imagine some of you will find there’s an absolute boatload of interesting stuff on his channel.)

    • Henson says:

      I generally like his stuff. It’s certainly a different approach than I normally see, though it can also be much more subjective, which is fine. I particularly liked his recent talks on the Witcher series: seeing him go far outside his comfort zone, experience something that he doesn’t enjoy playing but still finds interesting and thinks is well-crafted.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I find that “in depth review” and “critical analysis” work just fine for the types of reviews Chris does.

    As for your acronym,if you insert reviews in between hype and experience,youll get a much more satisfying one.


    • MadTinkerer says:

      In my headcanon, Shamus has already done this. :)

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        I was just thinking about how long it would take to explain to someone from a hundred years ago (or even just my grandparents) everything they’d need to know to grasp the argument two people are having on the internet about how the Shoot Guy Fanfic doesn’t jive with the Shoot Guy Wiki.

        But even ‘headcanon’ itself would take a while to explain. Sure you could just say ‘headcanon’ basically means ‘imagination’ and they’d be able to approximate from their knowledge of the words ‘head’ and ‘canon’ why that works but to fully grasp the connotations involved and the tortured origins of the word would probably take at least an hour I’d think.

        The main thing would probably be explaining how we became so obsessed and hyperbolic in our language that we refer to fictional content as ‘canon.’ (Maybe this is all older than I think, I dunno. I guess a lot of mythology is remixes and reimaginings but then you have to consider lack of ubiquitous education a hundred years ago).

        Side note, ‘headcanon’, ‘fanfic’. We talk like future people. I know sometimes we invoke constructions like this based on scifi but I think both these terms came about more naturally.

  5. Bloodsquirrel says:

    The word is “critique”.


    Other mediums have had it for a long time, although before the internets it was usually more of an academic field. Now we have guys like SFDebris and the Nostalgia critic. They use the word “reviews” for what they do, but it’s really not an accurate description of their work.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      I understand its still a critique if you express a work’s connection to concepts within the medium and larger themes but does this still work when you want to discuss a theme or a media concept and you use the work primarily as your example looking at how the work does and does not implement the theme or concept?

      SuperBunnyHop and Errant Signal do both.

      • Sean Riley says:


        One of the classical modes of criticism is the idea that a cultural work reflects the culture as a whole and can therefore be used to explore it. Hell, there’s a school of thought that argues this is exactly the purpose of literary criticism: To explore the human condition by exploring what it creates.

    • Sean Riley says:

      Ding! That was gonna be my response too. The word for this is a critique, or in plural is simply ‘criticism’. Yes, I know the word has multiple meanings, but it’s a well established tradition and vocabulary.

  6. Peter H. Coffin says:


    • Dev Null says:

      Critique is good, but I think the underlying problem is that “review” is the perfect word for what Shamus is talking about… except for the fact that its already been hijacked.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      That’s what I was going to go with, too.

      Plus, I do actually take it as consumer advice, at least to a point.
      Because if you’re looking to play games with consistent and engaging stories etc. then the regular “reviews” just don’t cut it. My demands for a game are so different from the regular review stuff that it just doesn’t tell me much.
      So for me, at least errant signal is just a much more in-depth review than what regular gaming sites offer, and that’s the type of information I’m after. The fact that it also teaches something on games in general is a welcome side-effect.
      Same goes for many of the games-related posts here on Twentysided, though less so for Spoiler warning, which was a replacement for playing games myself for some time when I couldn’t. These days I actually barely watch anymore, for lack of time, and because I won’t play the games anyway (I’m mostly abstaining from AAA games these days). If you should decide to do Starcraft II, I’ll be watching, though :)

      Come to think of it, “critique” very much nails it because it is something that is useful both before and after the thing itself. You can read critique on a book both in order to decide on whether you should read it and after reading the book to see if the critic has seen something in the book that you haven’t (or the other way round, and then you get to feel good about it).

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        I’ve used it that way too. I bought into the Batman Arkham franchise because Chris described how it does such a good job of letting you be Batman and darnit I want to be Batman. So I bought it.

        And I was Batman.

        And it was glorious.

  7. Retsam says:

    I don’t know what you’re talking about. When my friends and I come back from the movies we mostly just pick numbers between 7 and 10, and then explain how anyone who picked a number below us is a snob or “Just doesn’t get it” and how anyone higher than us is a sellout.

  8. Bropocalypse says:

    Of course, there’s not for a lack of descriptive words that differentiate these things, but it’s a cultural misunderstanding that the majority of consumers don’t care about.

  9. Janus says:

    The point is, that “review” has become the ultimate “talking & stuff about games/movies/X”-category online, such a broad umbrella term that it loses all meaning.
    There would be a lot of alternate & more precise terms to choose from, but they’re not as well established – not many people search via google for a “critique to game XY”. If you simply call it “review”, you get more hits on your view-counter & everyone has at least a vague idea what you’re on about.
    Errant Signal often almost borders on an academic deconstruction of game narratives & mechanics, but no one goes looking for it under that heading.
    (And since it’s Chris, he would probably call it something like “ludonarrative exegesis”, just because he can)

  10. TMTVL says:

    Personally, I think Shoot Guy Online was the best part of the franchise.

  11. Okay…so why the Penny Arcade game image?

  12. Eric says:

    Critique is what I go with, usually. It’s meaning is more or less the same as “review” but it hasn’t been co-opted to mean “numerical score out of ten but weighted to follow the same grading scale as American academics so that everything less than 7 is terrible terrible worst thing ever”.

    I’ve always thought of “analysis” as more defining the process and less the product, but I admit that’s just my interpretation of the word.

  13. MalthusX says:

    Hows about ‘Chautauquas’. This was an movement in the U.S., where lecturers would travel around to different communities and and talk about religion, politics, reforms, etc. I think the lecture component is appropriate here, as some of these guys (Errant Signal in particular) remind me of my favorite University profs.

    Plus, it makes us sound super clever!!!!!!!!!

  14. Cinebeast says:

    On the topic of Chris and George’s “critiques” of Valiant Hearts, I’d have to say that I kind of disagree with both of them. I haven’t played the game myself — maybe I’d change my tune if I did — but they just came off as needlessly harsh.

    Between the two, though, I’m sure George has a point about the derivative gameplay. Going by the clips he showed it does, indeed, look it. But TellTale’s Walking Dead has incredibly derivative gameplay as well, and he didn’t have any beef with it. Seemed a little contradictory to me. (Again, I stress that I haven’t played Valiant Hearts myself.)

    And George’s condemnation of the game’s art really perturbs me. I thought it looked awfully pretty. (And Chris doesn’t share his opinion, so there’s that.)

    I dunno. They just didn’t sell their points for me. Anyway, it’s still really cool that two of my favorite game critics analyzed the same game at the same time.

  15. Shamus you could call it “Game Digestion” as that is what people actually do, you digest the game, and usually what comes out at the end is crap, but every now and again you lay a golden egg.

    And if you really want it media neutral then call it “Media Digestion”.

    So the start of your post could be: “This is a treat. Both SuperBunnyHop and Errant Signal digest the same game at about the same time.”

  16. Blake says:

    I like the word deconstruction.

  17. Someone says:

    The word you are looking for is “Posthumous Opinionating”, obviously.

  18. Nixitur says:

    As everyone and their mother pointed out, “critique” works really well.
    And I hope this is acceptable, but I just want to recommend another very in-depth video game critique person dude.
    His name is Matthewmatosis and while his voice is kind of monotone, his insights are really rather marvelous. Among others, he critiqued five different Zelda games, the entire Metal Gear Solid series and Bioshock Infinite which he found severely lacking for a lot of very good reasons, even dissecting how little sense the multiple universe stuff makes. Most of his videos are also really long.
    I think it fits your description rather well because, as he always points out, his videos contain spoilers for the entire game.

  19. harborpirate says:

    Sorry, but I just had to drop this useless comment:

    “It’s like a Nazi themed Epcot pavilion” from that errant signal video had me laughing so hard I had to pause it and roll back.

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